By Christina Maxouris, CNN
(CNN) — In the photograph that introduced millions of people to Wadea Al-Fayoume for the first time, the kindergartener is seen celebrating his sixth birthday at his home near Chicago.
With one hand on a blue “Happy Birthday” hat on his head, Wadea stands in the warm light of the home, surrounded by presents. On a shelf behind him sits a wooden sign proclaiming “home.” A birthday video is seen playing on the living room TV.
Inside that same home – and just eight days after that photo was snapped – Wadea was stabbed 26 times by his family’s landlord because he was Muslim, authorities have said. The “ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis” was why the boy and his mother – who also suffered more than a dozen stab wounds but survived – were targeted, according to the Will County Sheriff’s Office.
The 71-year-old suspect has been charged with murder and hate crimes, among other charges, and was ordered to be held without bond during a court appearance Monday.
But Wadea knew nothing about the reasons that ultimately led to his brutal killing on Saturday, community advocates said this week.
Instead, they described him as a warm, kind child who focused on enjoying life with his friends and playing outside, and who loved his parents and family deeply.
In his final moments, Wadea offered words of comfort to his mother, a family member revealed Monday.
“His last words to his mom: ‘Mom, I’m fine,” Wadea’s uncle, Mahmood Yosif, told reporters. “You know what, he is fine. He is in a better place.”
A child who ‘loved everything’
In his short life, Wadea “loved everything” – from his parents, to Legos to spending time with friends – said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Chicago office, during a Sunday news conference.
“He loved everybody,” Rehab said. “He loved his parents, he loved his family and his friends, he loved life and he was looking forward to a long, healthy, prosperous life.”
And, like most other children, Wadea loved to play, the director said.
“He loved his toys, he loved anything with a ball, basketball, soccer, he loved to color, he loved to swing around,” Rehab said.
Wadea’s parents are from a village in the West Bank, Rehab said. His mother moved to the United States 12 years ago and his father moved to the US nine years ago. Wadea was born in the US.
“The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek—a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement in response to the killing. “This horrific act of hate has no place in America.”
Instead of returning to class Monday and spending time with his friends, Wadea was buried.
Outside the mosque where the child’s funeral services were held, Wadea’s father, uncle and community leaders gathered for a news conference Monday.
Yosif, the uncle, spoke of Wadea in present tense during a brief address to reporters.
“He’s a 6-year old kid,” Yosif said. “He’s a very kind kid, he likes to jump up and down.”
Wadea’s mother, Hanaan Shahin, could not attend the services as she is still recovering in the hospital, Rehab said.
While she sits alone in a hospital room, Rehab said, the child’s mom is “dealing with her injuries, dealing with her emotional trauma and dealing with the biggest hole that can never be filled, the biggest gap of all, the loss of her child.”
A ‘shameful reminder’ of Islamophobia, mayor says
Moments before the attack unfolded, the suspect told Shahin he was angry at her for what was going on in Jerusalem, according to a court filing. She said they should “pray for peace” and the suspect attacked her with a knife, the filing states.
The mother locked herself in the bathroom to get away, but was not quick enough to get her son. By the time she reached 911, “her son was being stabbed,” according to the filing.
Deputies responded to the home at roughly 11:38 a.m. Saturday. Wadea was pronounced dead at a hospital at 12:19 p.m., court documents say.
Odey Al-Fayoume, boy’s father, has asked for accountability in the killing and said Monday he hoped something good could come from the tragedy.
“I am here because I am the boy’s father, not because I’m a politician or a religious cleric. I am here as the father of a child whose rights were violated,” he said, speaking in Arabic.
And local, state and federal leaders condemned the attack on the family and the reasons why they were targeted.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson called the killing a “shameful reminder of the destructive role Islamophobia plays in our society.”
“We grieve alongside his family and the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities in our state as we reckon with this unthinkable loss,” Johnson said on social media.
“Every single Palestinian child is just as beautiful, has just as much of a right to be mourned and when we mourn Wadea, we are mourning all of those children and when we condemn the hate that killed Wadea, we are condemning the hate that has killed all of those children,” said Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an adjunct professor of Islamic studies in the graduate liberal studies program at Southern Methodist University.
“What type of hate has to be manufactured in the head of a man for him to stand over a 6-year-old boy and stab him 26 times?” he added. “I want each and every single one of us to take a step back and to actually assess our own humanity in the moment.”
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CNN’s Sara Smart, Whitney Wild, Bill Kirkos and Nouran Salahieh contributed to this report.